Pipeline Constraints

Sunday, 05/05/2019

Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance. So the saying goes, and it often holds true for midstream projects as well as people. Many times we’ve written that existing pipe in the ground beats new pipeline projects; it’s frequently easier and faster to expand the capacity of an older pipe than it is to build an entirely new pipeline. But eventually, contracts on these old pipelines expire, and as they do, shippers may have new, more attractive options — maybe proposed new pipes offer better connections to gathering systems, the ability to segregate batches of crude oil, and/or access to more desirable markets. Most importantly, they probably are willing to charge a lower tariff. In the Permian, we’ve seen a slew of new pipelines advance to construction by promising lower and lower shipping costs to move crude from West Texas to the Gulf Coast. Today, we look at how older pipelines’ re-contracting efforts will be affected by their competitors’ lower tariffs and operational advantages.

Wednesday, 04/17/2019

Only a few months after major crude oil takeaway constraints out of the Permian Basin caused price spreads to widen, the pipeline network serving the U.S.’s most prolific shale play may be on the brink of becoming overbuilt. We’ve already seen a number of new expansions and pipeline conversions completed in the past six months, and construction is underway on another 2 MMb/d of new pipeline capacity scheduled to come online between now and the first quarter of 2020. Beyond that, a few remaining projects have been proposed but have not yet reached final investment decisions. No midstream group wants to build a pipeline that will be half full, and no producer wants to make a 10-year commitment to a pipeline if there are going to be plenty of other options available. So who blinks first? In today’s blog, we review the Permian pipeline projects that are still on the fence and examine what factors will determine whether they end up being a “go” or a “no.”

Sunday, 04/07/2019

Crude differentials in the Permian are getting squeezed. The spread between Midland and WTI at Cushing widened out to near $18/bbl at one point in 2018, when pipeline capacity was scarce. But that same spread averaged a discount of only $0.25/bbl in March 2019. Differentials between Midland and the more desired sales destination at the Gulf Coast are also in a vise. What gives? Production in the Permian continues to climb, but the rapid pace of growth we saw in 2018 has slowed down a bit lately, with fewer rigs in service and fewer new wells being brought on each month. More importantly, we’ve seen several new pipeline expansions and pipeline conversions come online in bits and bursts — in some cases, ahead of schedule — and this new chunk of pipeline space has compressed Midland pricing. In today’s blog, we begin a series on Permian crude takeaway capacity and differentials, with a look at the handful of new projects that have come online in the past few months and what has happened to Permian prices as a result.

Thursday, 04/04/2019

The shutdown of natural gas production from the Sable Offshore Energy Project on Canada’s East Coast as of January 1, 2019, increased the Canadian Maritimes’ reliance on gas exports from New England this winter as consumers worked to link up with fresh supply to replace SOEP. The tightening supply in the region has prompted expansion plans from TransCanada to move more Western Canadian and Marcellus/Utica gas to New England utilizing its Mainline and other eastern systems. Today, we conclude our series examining the potential impacts of SOEP’s demise by examining new plans to bring more gas to the region. 

Monday, 03/25/2019

Crude production is at all-time highs in the Bakken and the Niobrara, and the latest pipeline-capacity expansions out of both regions have been filling up fast. At the same time, producers in Western Canada are dealing with major takeaway constraints and are on the hunt for still more pipeline space. Midstream companies are trying to oblige, proposing solutions like a major Pony Express expansion or a new Bakken-to-Rockies-to-Gulf Coast fix — the Liberty and Red Oak pipelines — that could help address all of the above. The catch is that, with multiple producing areas funneling crude along the same general eastern-Rockies corridor and the outlook for continued production growth uncertain, how’s a shipper to know whether to sign a long-term deal for some of the incremental pipe capacity now being offered? Today, we consider the need for new takeaway capacity, the potential for an overbuild scenario, and what it all means for producers and shippers.

Sunday, 03/10/2019

After 19 years of natural gas production from the waters off the Canadian Maritime provinces, ExxonMobil, operator of the Sable Offshore Energy Project (SOEP), shut down production there, effective January 1, 2019. The closure further limits gas supply options for the already supply-constrained Maritimes and New England regions. Will the shutdown put even more stress on the already overtaxed gas pipeline system in New England? And will it spur increased flows of Western Canadian gas into northern New England and Canada’s Maritime provinces? Today, we continue our series examining the potential impacts of SOEP’s demise on New England gas markets.

Thursday, 02/21/2019

After 19 years of natural gas production from the waters off the Canadian Maritime provinces, ExxonMobil, operator of the Sable Offshore Energy Project, shut down production there effective January 1, 2019. Though the closure had been announced well in advance, the end of SOEP output has left the two natural gas-consuming provinces in the region, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, without any indigenous gas supplies. It’s also made them fully reliant on either pipeline gas from the U.S. Northeast and Western Canada or imported volumes of LNG into the Canaport Energy terminal in New Brunswick. Will the shutdown put even more stress on the already overtaxed gas pipeline system in New England? And will it spur increased flows of Western Canadian gas into northern New England and the Maritimes? Today, in Part 1 of this blog series, we begin an examination of the potential impacts of SOEP’s demise on New England and Eastern Canadian gas markets.

Monday, 01/07/2019

It’s so ironic. New England is only a stone’s throw from the burgeoning Marcellus natural gas production area, but pipeline constraints during high-demand periods in the wintertime leave power generators in the six-state region gasping for more gas. Now, with only minimal expansions to New England’s gas pipeline network on the horizon, the region is doubling down on a long-term plan to rely on a combination of gas liquefaction, LNG storage, LNG imports and gas-to-oil fuel switching at dual-fuel power plants to help keep the heat and lights on through those inevitable cold snaps. Today, we discuss recent developments on the gas-supply front in “Patriots Nation.”

Tuesday, 06/26/2018

The weeks-long shutdown at Syncrude Canada’s oil sands production facility in northeastern Alberta will alleviate pipeline takeaway constraints that have significantly widened the price spread between Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil. But when Syncrude returns later this summer, there’s every reason to believe that the constraints will too, as will the need for significantly more crude-by-rail shipments. Railed volumes out of Western Canada have been increasing in recent months, but not by enough to avert WCS-WTI differential blowouts to $25 and even $30/bbl. The catch is that most of the rail-terminal capacity built a few years ago is mothballed, and that railroads are reluctant to dedicate more locomotives and personnel unless shippers make one-, two- or even three-year commitments to take-or-pay for that logistical support. Today, we consider the ongoing challenges Western Canadian producers face in moving their crude to market.

Wednesday, 02/07/2018

Producers in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) are in a bind. Crude oil output in the WCSB has risen by more than 50% over the past seven years to about 4 MMb/d and is expected to increase to 5 MMb/d by the mid-2020s. But there has been only a modest expansion of refinery capacity within the region and pipeline capacity out of the WCSB, and lately takeaway constraints have had a devastating effect on the price relationship between benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI). What’s ahead for WCSB producers and WCS prices? Today, we continue our series on Western Canadian crude and bitumen markets, this time focusing on WCSB refinery capacity and existing pipelines out of the region.

Monday, 01/22/2018

The recent collapse in the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS) versus West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and the 12-day shutdown of the Keystone Pipeline in November 2017 put the spotlight on a major issue: Alberta production is rising, pipeline takeaway capacity out of the province has not kept pace, and pipes are running so full that some owners have been forced to apportion access to them. Storage and crude-by-rail shipments have served as a cushion of sorts, absorbing shocks like the Keystone outage and the apportionments, but with more production gains expected in 2018-19, that cushion seems uncomfortably thin and unforgiving. With all this going on, we decided that it’s time for a deep-dive look at Western Canadian production, takeaway options and WCS prices — the whole kit and caboodle. Today, we begin a new series on Canadian crude and bitumen production, the infrastructure in place (and being planned) to deal with it, and the effects of takeaway constraints on pricing.

Thursday, 11/16/2017

Two months ago, U.S. crude oil exports skyrocketed, and they have averaged 1.6 MMb/d since mid-September, driven by a Brent-WTI differential above $6/bbl — higher than it has been in over two years. At one point, the steep differential and surging exports were blamed on Hurricane Harvey, then on renewed OPEC discipline and a political risk premium associated with a shakeup in the Saudi hierarchy. But the reality is that these factors are only small pieces of the equation, with pipeline transportation bottlenecks from Cushing and the Permian down to the Gulf Coast being much more important factors in the widening Brent-WTI price spread. Today, we begin a blog series examining how these pipeline capacity constraints triggered the expanded price differential, and how the differential then enabled high crude oil export volumes.

Wednesday, 09/13/2017

Natural gas liquids production in the Permian Basin has doubled in the past four years, and may well double again by 2022. That rapid growth — driven by the pursuit of Permian crude oil and the resulting production of large volumes of NGL-rich associated gas — threatens to overwhelm the region’s existing gas processing and NGL-pipeline infrastructure. This is a big deal, because if there’s not enough gas processing and NGL takeaway capacity out of the Permian, exploration and production companies (E&Ps) in the U.S.’s hottest shale play would be forced to slow the pace of their development. Today we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on Permian NGL production growth and the need for more NGL-related infrastructure.

Wednesday, 06/28/2017

New production expected online in December 2017 from the Suncor Fort Hills project in the oil sands region of northern Alberta could increase pipeline congestion from western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast market where the oil is in demand. That’s because existing capacity across the Canadian border is running close to full and the only possible capacity addition across before 2019 is Enbridge’s 300-Mb/d Alberta Clipper expansion at the border — assuming it gets a long-sought U.S. Presidential Permit later this year. As a result of this continuing near-term pipeline squeeze, producers are again turning to rail transport to bypass pipeline congestion and ensure their crude gets to market. On June 2 (2017), USD Group announced a new route option for Canadian producers following its purchase of a rail terminal in Stroud, OK, that is connected by pipeline to the Midwest crude trading and storage hub at Cushing, OK; USD will offer direct rail service from its Hardisty, AB, terminal to Cushing. Today we review the economics of this rail transport route for oil sands producers. (This blog is based on a recent note published by Morningstar Commodities and Energy Research.)

Wednesday, 11/02/2016

Natural gas utilities and power generators in southern New England will have access to additional gas supplies this winter as Spectra Energy brings its 342-MMcf/d Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project into service. But Kinder Morgan’s planned 72-MMcf/d Connecticut Expansion has been set back a year (to November 2017) due to permitting delays and, more important, a multi-state effort to enable electric distribution utilities (EDUs) to contract for gas pipeline capacity for generators appears to have died, and with it prospects for at least one major project. Is New England destined to remain gas-supply constrained for years to come?  Today we consider recent developments regarding gas supply in the northeastern corner of the U.S., and what they may mean for Marcellus/Utica producers.